G5 Sahel states Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad have agreed to set up a joint reaction force, which is to combat cross-border terrorism. Required funding is estimated to be 423 million euros ($509 million) per year. Some 25 percent have been pledged so far, primarily by the European Union and France. On 18 September, a G5 Sahel donor conference will be held in Berlin. Deutsche Welle spoke with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen about her country’s contributions to the development of the force and its prospects for progress.
DW: Can you tell us in precise terms which sort of contribution Germany will make to support the G5 Sahel initiative?
Ursula von der Leyen: On the one hand, together with France we’re setting up a support circle, which is to accompany the G5 Sahel initiative. On the other hand we’ve been discussing since the inception of the joint force in the G5 Sahel bloc what and how much is in fact required. This must be the first step. This is then followed by the issue of actual financial contributions.
What is the current stage of preparations with respect to the force?
Recently, my French counterpart and I have been in Niger where we examined the initial stage of what will be ultimately be the headquarters. We will make our contributions here, too. The force is still in the development stage, as it were, but we’re making good progress. This is indicated by the fact that all sides are working very intensively in order to actually breathe life into the existing structures.
The underlying concept here is that African nations are responsible for their own security. Previous approaches along those lines were, rather often, not very successful. What makes you think G5 Sahel is different in this respect?
Here, I wish to stand up for the capabilities which exist on the African continent. There’s an example which involves the area around Lake Chad, where African nations joined forces to combat terrorism side by side, and they have been successful. Surely, the G5 states have learned their lesson there. In addition, they’re profiting from the experience gained through the Mali training mission. And they have the common goal of fighting cross-border terrorism with a cross-border reaction force. And this is certainly the right objective.
You mentioned Mali. Local troops there are still in need of support from the European Union, the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, and France. What do you think: how long will support from foreign troops still be required?
It is impossible to set a deadline here. It would also be wrong. It will ultimately depend not on timescales, but on the situation on the ground. And in Mali, it is essential that political reforms and the reconciliation and stabilization process continue to accelerate on an internal level. So it’s not just a question of training and equipping armed forces, but primarily a question of political processes.
Von der Leyen, shown here with Niger’s Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum (l), says “it is impossible to set a deadline” on certain aspects of Germany’s involvement in the Sahel states
Do you see progress being made in this respect?
We would like to see more progress. We would like to see more activity. The international community, too, supports these demands with great clarity.
Time and again, there are attacks on MINUSMA peacekeepers which claim lives. What is your assessment of the security situation?
Right from the beginning, we had no illusions: MINUSMA is one of the most dangerous, if not THE most dangerous UN mission. For this reason, it is essential that it is equipped with the required capabilities. It’s not just a question of the number of soldiers stationed there. Since November, we have been using a reconnaissance drone which has all of northern Mali under surveillance. This is a giant step forward with regard to the safety of our own troops and the local population. Together with the UN, we are in the process of transferring helicopter support into a rotating system, so that various nations can take turns at securing air support and air-based evacuation.
Germany is currently making premium contributions which are highly welcome in Mali. Can you imagine doing the same for other UN missions in Africa?
If you take the European training mission and MINUSMA into account, we have nearly 1,000 troops stationed in Mali. For the time being, it is important that we continue to tackle the enormous tasks lying ahead of us with great seriousness so that we’ll be successful in the end.
Will it be possible to restore security in Mali’s remote regions as well?
At this point, the north, in particular, is difficult terrain. What’s essential now is the process of implementation of the various components of the peace treaty, which MINUSMA is to monitor. There are many of those components. For example, rebel fighters who are prepared to accept a negotiated solution to the conflict must actually be integrated into joint armed forces; disarmament has to take place; alternative employment has to be offered. These are just some of the steps that must now be actively implemented. This is of utmost importance.
Ursula von der Leyen has been Germany’s Defense Minister since December 2013.
The interview was conducted by Nina Werkhäuser.